It opens with a wedding. Cinema is amok with weddings, some good and some disastrous and Shelby our young ingénue of sorts is determined to have her wedding. A justifiably precocious Julia Roberts plays her with that tinge of Southern drawl that’s both charming and irritating as she tells us about her wedding. “My colours are blush and bashful” to which her careworn mother asides “Her colours are pink and pink.” They are in Truvy’s beauty shop preparing for the big day. Truvy is played by Dolly Parton, who underappreciated as an actress, bringing just the right amount of quasi-humour to the part. Darryl Hannah’s Annelle and Olympia Dukakis Clairee round out the lot. They will soon be joined by Shirley MacLine Ouisa – an eccentric, cantankerous old woman with a heart of gold. Steel Magnolias is a story about these six women. Sure most of them have men who drift in and out, since unlike Harling’s actualy play it doesn’t take place in the one setting with these six women for the duration. Still, there is no denying that they are the heart, soul, brain and face of Steel Magnolias.
Julia Roberts earned an Oscar nomination for her performance and it’s not difficult to see what’s in her favour. She is the youngest of the lot and so we see her age the most as she goes through marriage and motherhood and voters love a martyr and an ingénue so her character is all but irresistible. Don’t get me wrong. I adore Julia Roberts and she is everything that Shelby needs to be, but (save for Hannah) she is surrounded by four exceptionally talented who cannot help but outshine her. I persist that Dolly Parton gives her greatest performance here, possibly one that fits her good-natured self to a T, but excellent nonetheless. Harling gives her some of the best quips in the script and she goes about it being so irrepressibly charming that you can’t help but be impressed with her at the end. The same goes for Sally Field’s M’Lynn. Sally and Julia make a believable mother and daughter pair and Sally has never been one to hold back on scenery chewing. There is a scene that occurs with fifteen minutes to spare at a funeral which is really a monologue. It’s the best scene of the film and Sally Field is excellent here. It’s a wonder she didn’t go on to an Oscar nod (the Globes recognised). The film is a light-hearted one but Sally puts so much emotion into that scene that she could make tears come from a rock.
Whereas Sally offers the more dramatic moments of the film, Dukakis and MacLaine offer comic relief as two old friends always at it. It’s a beauty to watch these two Oscar winners doing what they do best. Sure Shirley’s Ouisa may seem over the top but it’s not as by the book as it seems it’s so endearing to see her and Olympia walk around hand in hand. Darryl Hannah rounds out the set playing Annelle, a bashful hairdresser to be that Truvy takes in. It’s easy to forget her in the lot and even resent her semi-annoying character tics but she really does grow as the film progresses and her few words to Sally Field at the end are so poignant (and ridiculous) and she completely sells them.
The men don’t have that much time - Dylan McDermott and Tom Skerrit have the most screen time and the latter is especially hilarious when he must fight it out with Shirley MacLaine. Kevin J. O'Connor plays Truvy’s son and much is asked of him, the same goes for Sam Shepherd who has few lines as her husband – but he has a few potent lines at the end that are played just right that are as moving to the audience as they are for Dolly.
When I see films like Steel Magnolia I always wonder why there aren’t more films like this about men, although I suppose that is too much to ask. I’m not sure what to classify Steel Magnolias as. It’s a comedy; it’s a drama; it’s romance; it’s a family story. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and above all else you’ll be entertained. Steel Magnolias is a rarity I believe, it’s been relegated to unimportance but it’s a good film. It is one of the films in my top 100 I am aware is not as good as I believe, but what is the internet for if not highlighting your misguided opinions?